“Is this the Krusty Krab?”
“No, this is Patrick.”
“Is this the Krusty Krab?”
“No, this is Patrick!”
The sound of a couple hundred UCR students enthusiastically reciting each line along to this clip from “Spongebob Squarepants” could be heard from HUB 302 last Tuesday night. Students had gathered in droves to see ASPB’s hotly anticipated animation panel, “Stay Tooned.” Featuring famous voices from famous cartoons (and one executive), Tom Kenny, Fred Seibert, Johnny Yong Bosch and Niki Yang, the night proved to be memorable and entertaining as panelists brought their unique tales, turns and interesting stories from their experiences in the animation and television industries.
Before the night even began, a line full of cosplayers and fans alike stretched all the way down the hall of the HUB’s third floor, with some waiting for nearly four hours just to get a glimpse of their idols. After waiting with great anticipation outside and in, the panel was met with raucous cheers as Kenny, Seibert and Bosch came on stage.
Bosch was first to present, and though technical problems did not allow him to show the images he brought with him from his laptop, he still gave a small talk on how he got his start in voice acting. Bosch said that when he was first doing scenes for Power Rangers, “We had to dub everything because the sound wasn’t working, and the producer said I had a ‘good hero voice.’” More dubbing and animation work subsequently followed for Bosch, whose notable roles in animation include Ichigo in “Bleach” and Vash the Stampede in “Trigun.”
Kenny, the man behind the beloved voice of Spongebob Squarepants, among a vast array of other credits, was up next and one of the highlights of the night. “Characters in cartoons were always more real than those in sitcoms to me,” Kenny started. “I grew up obsessed with ‘Rocky and Friends’ and ‘Popeye’ and ‘Looney Tunes.’”
Kenny went on to tell his story of success, including how he got one of his first breakthroughs on the early Fox show “The Edge,” whose cast included Jill Talley, who would go on to become Kenny’s wife and voice of Karen, the computer wife in “Spongebob.”
One of the more lively moments of the presentation came when Kenny seemingly at random told the entire audience to make a sound like a smoke detector, followed by directions to rub their hands back and forth over their throats — teaching them how to make Spongebob’s famous laugh.
Breaking out the voices of some of his other characters — including the mayor and narrator in the “Powerpuff Girls,” Dog in “Catdog,” and Ice King from “Adventure Time,” — made the crowd go wild. But Kenny was more than just entertaining, as he offered the audience wise words as well. “Find something you’re interested in, and learn the crap out of it,” Kenny said. “If I could do voiceovers for cartoons ‘til I’m an old dead guy, I’ll be happy.”
Seibert, the only non-actor of the panel, went up next and gave a different perspective on the industry. “At first I wanted to be a chemist,” Seibert said toward the beginning of his presentation. After explaining his love for The Beatles and more creative things, Seibert explained that one day in a lab at school, he looked at a classmate and said “The Beatles are more important to me than this,” and walked out.
He explained how he got his start as one of MTV’s first employees, and later how he and a few others were given the task of bringing Nickelodeon back from the grave in the 1980s. Seibert said that he and his colleagues brought Nickelodeon from the worst-rated cable TV channel to top-rated in six months simply by rebranding it and giving it a “kids only” club-type feel.
The crowd responded fervently as he walked them through the steps of how he became the last president of Hanna Barbera studios and eventually produced many popular cartoons like “The Fairly OddParents” and, more recently, “Adventure Time” and “Bravest Warrior.”
Though she didn’t arrive until just before her scheduled speaking time, Niki Yang also gave an interesting and informative presentation on how she got started in the industry. Yang said that she was a production assistant on “Family Guy,” but within a week, through persistence, was promoted to helping work on storyboards for the show. Yang showcased some clips from some of her latest projects that were pitched but unfortunately shot down, including one cartoon about twin witches and another about a puppy delivering letters. One exciting moment was when Yang showed the crowd pitches she had for two upcoming shows called “Supernuts” and “Yoyotoki Happyears!” which are in development. The crowd responded with cheers as they were privileged with seeing something “behind-the-scenes.”
The Q-and-A session following the panel also gave students valuable time to interact with the panelists. All members of the panel were generally accessible and enthusiastic in answering questions, with Kenny even obliging to say someone’s name in Spongebob’s voice. One of the more interesting questions to come out of the session regarded why cartoons from the late 90s and early 2000s seemed a bit more edgy. “It’s simple,” Seibert said. “When they made ‘Rocco’s Modern Life,’ there were no executives at Nickelodeon. So nobody was paying attention.”
“When I think back to the early days of that, there really was a sense that the inmates were running the asylum,” Kenny added. “And I think YouTube is the new version of that. There were less eyeballs on us, less people watching us on the corporate level. And as it became bigger and became this big economic juggernaut, suits started to pay a lot more attention and they do tend to micromanage stuff in a way that can take a little bit of the fun out of it.”
But perhaps the ethos of the night could best be summed up, however, when a crowd member was called upon to sing the Spongebob theme song to win a free T-shirt. After the student told the crowd he would need help with some of the chants, Kenny said, “Wait! I’ll start you off,” and lead the crowd with an “ohhhh … !” As three to four hundred college-aged students emphatically sang out their hearts, the night could easily be deemed a success, if only because it allowed everyone to enjoy the wonder of childhood again.